An Introduction to Abstract Painting

14 TUTOR: Michael White (Dip Fine Art)

This course is designed for those curious about abstraction and wishing to explore this interest further. It is an introduction to the uninhibited, sometimes playful, almost childlike world of abstraction where there are few rules and in terms of paint, almost anything goes. The resulting work may be painterly, expressive, lyrical, mystical, spiritual, symbolic or even intricate depending on your sensibilities and preferences. A series of exercises have been designed to draw out your innate creativity and act as starting points leading you into abstraction. Bring an apron or overalls and your favourite art tools. All paints and materials will be supplied.

1 AM
AM course

Course Notes


I will talk briefly about my journey as an artist showing examples of my work starting with my early figurative work and culminating with my current abstract work. I will ask participants to introduce themselves and talk about why they have an interest in the abstract and what they hope to learn from this course. This will be followed by a brief discussion and questions. After this I will present a slide show consisting of a collection of random contemporary and historical abstract paintings. Then we will proceed with a brief course outline with its aims and objectives and material choices. For paint I suggest we use a good acrylic paint mainly because it is most similar to traditional oil but has faster drying properties.

We will then talk about the shift from the figurative to the abstract in terms of the two dimensional surface. There are of course almost an infinite number of ways to make this shift, and I will suggest three solutions or paths to make the shift. On day 1 I will talk about possible solution for students to consider.

Solution 1. Using your mobile phone take a number of photographs of details of organic or inorganic subjects that in their removal from the larger context can be seen as abstract. Crop and manipulate these photographs if necessary to make them work. This could be a starting point for your final abstract piece. If it does then you may need to print it out unless you can work from your mobile. The final image should be square.


At the beginning of days 2, 3 and 4, I would like to start with a talk and slide show on the work of a famous abstract painter. I would like the participants to bear in mind that they need to make choices in terms of how they would position themselves as an abstract painter. Do they see themselves as expressionist, spontaneous or a more analytical artist?

A talk with slides about the work of famous Abstract painter, Jackson Pollock.

We will then consider Solution 2.

Solution 2. Find a photograph or newspaper cutting that appeals to you as a colour reference. (I will provide a limited number of images of abstract paintings, which students can use. Students are also free to choose their own images).

Using this mixed palette of colours apply them onto an A4 piece of card using a variety of tools ranging from a paintbrush to a stick to your finger. Drip, splash, flick or whatever until the surface is covered. Then make two L shaped pieces of card about 10cms by 10cms and about 3cms wide. Use these Ls to make a square window over the painting until you find an area that works. This could be a starting point for your final abstract piece.

In the process of considering these solutions I will talk about visual problem solving, line, tone, colour, texture, materials, surface, surface ground and composition. All these issues can be contentious in regard to the abstract. For example one can substitute traditional brushes and palette knives with sponges, twigs or any other tool. Paints could be traditional artists' materials but similarly they could be commercial paints and glues etc. Colour can be a difficult starting point for the abstract artist. The artist's palette could be "borrowed” from the figurative world or chosen from commercial paint samples.

We will then proceed with talking about Solution 3.

Solution 3. Find an abstract painting by a famous abstract artist and reproduce this work changing the tones, colours and adjusting the composition to make it work better for you. This could be entitled for example, "After the Painting called Blue Poles by Jackson Pollock”. This could be the subject of your final abstract piece.


This day will start with a talk on the work of Robert Delauney and a look at his work. Students now have 3 possible solutions to choose from, one of which they must choose and start working on. The day will be spent developing their final solution using acrylic, which I have suggested as being the most suitable medium for this piece. This colour study will be done on card and the day will be spent developing their idea.


We will start with a talk on the work of Helen Frankenthaler another American Abstract Expressionist and then we will look at her work. Students will then with guidance and discussion if appropriate start on the final piece from the colour study. If they manage to complete the abstract canvas they can proceed with developing another solution.


This day will be spent finalising the final piece and then presenting the work to be appraised by myself, the artist and the other participants. The final piece will belong to the students and they will take this with them, after hopefully allowing me to photograph it.

We will then conclude the course and I would welcome feedback on the week.


All tools and materials will be supplied, but you might find it useful to bring a mobile phone camera or other camera with you.


Course Tutor

Michael White

Dip Fine Art

About Michael

Michael was born in Chivu (rural Zimbabwe) in 1956 and attended The University of Kwazulu Natal (South Africa) where he studied Fine Arts. He has worked as an artist, craftsman and lecturer and has worked with canvas, oil paint, film, wood, leather, paper, cloth, ceramics and stone. Currently, Michael lives in Seend (near Devizes) and spends part of the year in Harare, he loves both worlds and they could not be more opposite - the contrast helps keep him alive.

Michael has exhibited widely, including the National Galleries of Namibia, Zimbabwe and Mauritius, in South Africa and in the UK. His work hangs in many private collections all over the world.

I paint and photograph to no formula, no known outcome. I deliberately avoid a slickness, even a method…”

Michael has always been fascinated by the abstract. He finds his abstract paintings a fascinating journey, which allow him a freedom and provide a puzzle that figurative work no longer does.

His work can be viewed and he can be contacted on Facebook at

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All courses run for 5 days

WK 1 8 Jul - 12 Jul

WK 2 15 Jul - 19 Jul

WK 3 22 Jul - 26 Jul

WK 4 29 Jul - 2 Aug

Morning Courses

9.15AM to 12.15PM

Afternoon Courses

1.45PM to 4.30PM

All Day Courses

9.15AM to 4.30PM